“Is the Pope Catholic?”

Pope Francis is at it again, changing the stodgy, conservative, medieval doctrines of the Catholic Church.

Or so it would seem from recent headlines.

It all has to do with the narrative that has been constructed by the news media.  Facts and quotes are then shoehorned into the story that the media wants to tell.  As far as I have been able to discern, the story goes like this:

The acerbic, prickly German whose name has the word “rat” in it became the head of an ancient and out-of-touch institution that has no bearing on modern enlightened culture.  But this Rottweiler of God was so retrograde and intransigent that he was responsible for the deaths of millions of people around the world from AIDS, hate crime murders, and unsafe abortions… even though no one really listened to what he had to say.

But then this stagnant curmudgeon retired, probably from the all of the scandals that weren’t immediately affecting his reign, but it is quite clear that something really bad forced him to step down.  I mean, there’s no way someone as authoritarian and fascist as Benedict would step away from the ultimate seat of power in the Catholic religion!

And then a new light dawned:  the cardinals finally got their act together and elected a non-European.  He’s still white, which is a problem, but at least he’s not German.  He is a man of the people because he lived in a small apartment before he became Pope. (What?  So did Ratzinger?  Hmm… no, that can’t be right)  And he doesn’t wear any of the stuffy vestments and accoutrement that Benedict did. 

The best thing about Francis, however, is the fact that he is finally changing the Church’s teaching.  There is a sea of change occurring because Francis is overturning the Church’s teachings on homosexuality, the necessity of faith, and priestly celibacy!  If this keeps up, soon we’ll have contraception, abortion on demand, women priests, and empty churches.  It’s like Hippie Catholic Christmas!

That, I think, is the news media’s story in a nutshell.  I am overgeneralizing, I know.  Sometimes the news is kind enough to allow a break in the narrative.  But I cannot help but be annoyed by the continued ignorance I read from headline after headline.

It wouldn’t be that bad if it was only my personal pet peeve.  But it filters down to my students and turns them in confusion.  The other day I had a student say, “Didn’t the pope say he did have a problem with the gay thing because he said, ‘Who am I to judge?'”

He was referring to this quote from Pope Francis (via National Catholic Register):

“Agh… so much is written about the gay lobby.  I have yet to find on a Vatican identity card the word gay.  They say there are some gay people here.  I think that when we encounter a gay person, we must make the distinction between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of a lobby, because lobbies are not good.  They are bad.  If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge that person?  The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this point beautifully but says, wait a moment, how does it say, it says, these persons must never be marginalized and “they must be integrated into society.”

What he was saying was that we are not to judge our gay brothers and sisters.  That is God’s job, not ours.  We must love each other form community with them.  This seems like a great revelation to the news media, but notice, he quotes the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is the official collection of essential Catholic teachings.  In other words, the Pope taught the Catholic faith.

Today there is a lot of hoopla with headlines declaring “Pope Francis Says You Don’t Need Faith To Go to Heaven.”  The words this time that are being twisted are these from an open letter to La Republicca:

“As for the three questions you asked me in  the article of August 7th.  It would seem to me that in the first two, what you are most interested in is understanding the Church’s attitude towards those who do not share faith in Jesus.  First of all, you ask if the God of the Christians forgives those who do not believe and do not seek faith.  Given that  –  and this is fundamental  –  God’s mercy has no limits if he who asks for mercy does so in contrition and with a sincere heart, the issue for those who do not believe in God is in obeying their own conscience.  In fact, listening and obeying it, means deciding about what is perceived to be good or to be evil.  The goodness or the wickedness of our behavior depends on this decision.” (Source)

Notice he does not say that all atheists go to heaven.  He does say that God forgives all who are sincerely sorry and ASK for forgiveness.  What that implies is that a person who has lived a life rejecting faith at the very least gropes in the darkness and asks God, whoever He is, for forgiveness.  There is no sin that God will not forgive if we are truly sorry.  Again, the Pope taught the Catholic faith.

And then, this headline drove me nuts:  “Catholic priests may be allowed to marry amid Papal changes”

Here is the opening of the story:

“The Vatican has opened the door to the possibility of married priests, a move that would go against an established Church tradition.  Archbishop Pietro Parolin, who will be the No. 2 in the Roman Catholic church when be becomes secretary of state next month, declared that priestly vow of celibacy derived from an age-old rule but was not Catholic dogma.”  (Source)

I feel like Apu during this exchange with Homer:

Homer:  Come on, Apu… join us… You can’t have a Civil War re-enactment without a lot of Indians to shoot.

Apu:  (sigh) I do not know where to begin correcting that sentence.

First of all, diocesan priests don’t take vows to God.  Those are for people in religious communities.  They make promises of celibacy.  The article uses the misleading word “declared” as if this was some sort of proclamation, but it is on par with me “declaring” that grass is green.  And is said that the Vatican opened the door to the possibility of married priests.  THE DOOR WAS NEVER CLOSED!

Celibacy was optional for the first thousand years of the faith and then it became human tradition to make it mandatory.  Of course it can change!  Strangely, they quote Archbishop Parolin and not Pope Francis.  This is probably because Francis is not a diocesan priest.  He is part of the vowed religious life, a Jesuit.  So even if he were to change the discipline it wouldn’t apply to him!

And then there was the most recent headlines regarding the Pope’s interview with America Magazine: “Pope Says Church Should Not Be Obsessed With Abortion/Gay Marriage.”  Once again, the relevant passages were excised out of context and then raised to once again support the narrative.  Upon closer examination, we find out that this time Pope Francis is actually breaking with centuries of Catholic doctrine.

Just kidding.

As you’ve probably guessed, the Pope was not re-evaluating the moral doctrines about protecting life and the sanctity of marriage.  He was explaining in a pastoral way that it is not enough to simply be against a moral bad.  You must then reach out to those on the other side to give them the Gospel.  It all begins with the love of the Lord Jesus and His Saving Grace.  If we can give people that and help them say “Yes” to that glorious gift, it will be easier for them to say “No” to sin.

So, after all of that, what is our conclusion?

I think a safe and rational rule of thumb is that if the news media says, “Pope Francis Said Something That Changes Church Teaching,” lend only a skeptical eye until you can find the actual quotes that will prove the Church teaching to actually be a lie.

Copyright © 2013, W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

One response to ““Is the Pope Catholic?””

  1. Great take on this problem. But the whole Pope is changing … is getting annoying, why does the media have such a hard time getting the facts straight?

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